Third horse dies at Stampede chuckwagon races; driver fined, disqualified

CALGARY — A chuckwagon driver has been barred indefinitely from competing at the Calgary Stampede after a collision caused a horse's death.

"We live and work as a family committed to the well-being of our beloved animals and this type of incident impacts us deeply to the core," Stampede CEO Warren Connell said Friday.

The Stampede said driver Chad Harden impeded fellow driver Danny Ringuette's chuckwagon and caused a third rig driven by Evan Salmond to collide with the track's inner rail, resulting in severe injuries to a horse that led to its death.

The crash happened Thursday evening in the seventh heat of the Rangeland Derby. Three other horses on Salmond's wagon had minor injuries.

An independent chuckwagon safety commission ruled Harden should be fined $10,000 and disqualified from the remainder of this year's racing, which means he will not be invited to compete in future events.

"We don't think that Chad deliberately meant to do this," said Mike Whittle, chairman of the safety commission. "We have determined that there was driver error involved in his decision making."

After viewing video and interviewing judges and the drivers directly involved, the commission informed Harden of its decision late Thursday.

"He provided us his thoughts," Whittle said. "I won't go into those thoughts, but I will say that we did inform Chad after our meeting and he is processing what we have told him."

Whittle said he's not aware of anything like this happening before.

He said Harden could technically ask to be reinstated as early as September, but there is no guarantee he would be allowed to compete again. Whittle said the decision is up to the Stampede, but the commission would be able to give input.

The Stampede has a zero tolerance policy for preventable accidents and injuries.

"The Stampede takes this very seriously. This is about our brand, this is about our commitment to the safety of our performers, both animals and people," said Connell.

The horse death was the third during this year's Stampede.

On Wednesday, a horse was euthanized after it broke a leg during a race, while another animal collapsed and died Monday due to what the Stampede called a medical condition.

Camille Labchuk, executive director of the animal welfare legal advocacy group Animal Justice, wants law enforcement to crack down on Stampede rodeo and chuckwagon events.

She said the large number of horses on the track, combined with the speed at which they're running, make crashes inevitable.

"It's illegal under Alberta's provincial animal welfare laws to cause distress to animals and rodeo events aren't exempt from these laws," she said.

Labchuk said she takes no solace in the Stampede punishing Harden.

"I don't think it's particularly important whether somebody follows to the letter their internal rules, when we know that everyone participating in this event can foresee that those horses are going to die."

The Calgary and Vancouver humane societies have also been critical of chuckwagon races.

"I think it's fair to say that while we have a difference in fundamental values, we do agree on something," said Stampede spokeswoman Kristina Barnes.

"We don't ever want to see an animal injured when it heads out onto our chuckwagon track and I'm sure they would agree on that point."

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